5   +   9   =  

@ Newcastle o2 Academy II, March 21 2010

This was the night when one of Newcastle’s hardest gigging bands suddenly went soft. And the result was quite spectacular.

With acoustic album Halfpenny Dancer winning rave reviews the Quireboys arrived home on quite a roll and only poorer than expected ticket sales threatened to knock the boys off their stride. Thankfully those who did make it to the upstairs room of Newcastle’s vacuous Academy raised the roof before raising their glasses to one of the region’s best kept cultural secrets. This was the Quireboys’ second headline show here in four months and they’re already booked in to play the main room again on December 19. But unlike the rock and roll frenzy that was their 2009 pre-Christmas shindig this was a show designed to bring Halfpenny Dancer to life.

Messrs Guerin and Griffin wielded acoustic guitars, the band’s rhythm section remained tight yet understated, Chris Corney came in to add a third string (or six) to the band’s bow and keys man Keith Weir was in his element. Then there was the pedal steel. It really was a treat to be alive in the company of such a fine group of musicians making merry.

And they did. The banter, familiar but far from rehearsed, was better than anything Steel Panther could muster and the songs reflected the relaxed attitude. Relaxed but never to the point where the emotion was lost.

Poignant references to friends and family seemed somehow appropriate given the intimate setting and lovingly crafted compositions. Love To Love, the UFO cover and outstanding track on the dreamy Halfpenny Dancer was delivered with aplomb but there wasn’t a dud song all night.

But Seven O’ Clock didn’t make the acoustic record for a reason – of all the Quireboys’ classics we’ve come to know and love it doesn’t belong in a stripped down set and, briefly, the band appeared uncomfortable playing their biggest hit. But it didn’t last.

Spike’s rendition of the Blaydon Races, replete with guitar, roused the masses and provided the perfect celebration of his beloved Newcastle United’s promotion. Wrapping up with I Don’t Love You Anymore – surely destined for Halfpenny Dancer Volume Two – was well judged and well received.

With their temporary move towards the acoustic the Quireboys have reached a crossroads. The dilemma facing the band in 2010 is whether concentrate on a sound which suits them so well or revert to the good time rock and roll which made their name. For now it seems they’re going to do both – Sweden Rock will see the band play and acoustic set one night and full electric set the next and December’s Academy return will feature an acoustic break within the full show.

The best of both worlds? Maybe. But last night was so special that plugging in again suddenly seems a little less appealing.

Plugging in again might not be an option for support Fables Last Stand and if that’s the case it’s a great shame for fans of North East rock and beyond. Buddies and band mates Roachie McMahon and Twiggy looked perfectly at home on two stools and with nothing more than a semi-acoustic and a tambourine. Unlike the full Fables’ shows of late this set offered fans ample opportunity to appreciate McMahon’s voice to the full and observe the true quality of fast-rising axeman Twiggy.

Whatever the future holds for both men it’s unlikely they’ll deliver something as good as this for some time.